By no stretch of the imagination do I think I know a shred about fly fishing for muskies compared to the guys I had the pleasure of fishing with this last October, but here are my thoughts any way. Fly fishing for muskies is nothing new for the fly fishing industry as a whole, but for me personally it is a new adventure. And for some crazy reason it is so damn addictive. Maybe it is the big flies or big fish or the fact it is damn hard to catch one.
Last fall I got a call from a great friend (Bob White) who asked if I would help him out by oaring around two of his friends that were going to shoot some video and pictures on a guiding trip he was planning. I said yes and what I got was three of the best days on the water that I can remember in quite some time.
Sadly, I did not catch a musky on this trip – it was way worse than that. I moved one, I saw it chasing the big bucktail fly on the end of my line and *poof* it was gone. There was nothing left but the monster’s wake splashing against the side of the boat. But even just the rush of that one follow has got me hooked.
On this trip I met some a number of musky guides who also happened to be pretty great guys.
First up is Kip Veith of “Wildwood Float Trips” – one of the nicest guys I have ever met. I knew him for two minutes and he was already talking to me like I had known him for twenty years. He guides on the Upper Mississippi but really anywhere in the Midwest I think would be fair game for him. And if the fishing is slow he has a million of the best damn jokes you have ever heard.
Next up is Dan Boggs of “Blackwater Fly Fishing” – another great guy who was just too nice to me from the very start. I am going to quote Bob White because I think he sums it up better than I could ever have, “Dan has developed a stellar reputation guiding the rivers of the upper Midwest for Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Musky.” On a side note, Dan and I had some time to kick back in the evening, sip some whisky and do some tying. He shared some techniques and tips with me that have helped significantly. Dan is one hell of a fly tier and, like Kip, has a million jokes.
This next guy has a fly box that you would have no trouble making love to if it wasn’t for the razor sharp hooks. Gabe Schubert is another salt of the earth type of guy that has got to be one of the best Musky fly tiers I have ever had the pleasure to meet and watch. But not only is he a great tier; he is, and I quote, one of his fellow guides “Gabe is so f#&@%!$ fishy that when the river is totally dead I have seen him call up a Musky and force him to eat a fly”. It should be noted that Gabe is very humble and soft-spoken guy that has caught more Muskies in one year than I will the rest of my life. I think the best way to get in touch with Gabe is to contact him and “Bob Mitchel’s Fly Shop”.
Last but not least Bob White of “Bob White Studio” (go figure). Bob says he is new at fly fishing for musky (not that I put any merit into that statement, because Bob has to be the most humble man I have ever met and would drop everything to help out a friend in need). Bob has guided in Alaska for twenty years. What else is there to say except that he has got some great stories about Alaska and his jokes are endless as well.
Paul Taylor made a short video of the weekend adventure titled “Fly fishing for Musky in Minnesota”, I think it does a great job documenting the beauty of the trip and the challenge of fly fishing for Musky.
Now you know that I cannot tell you everything I learned or one (maybe all) of the three nicest guys I listed above would hunt me down and beat the piss out of me for giving away all of their guiding secrets. However, I do have a few tidbits to share. I would like to give Bob White as he helped write some of the information below.
Tying flies that muskies eat is a fine art, and every guide has his own idea about what works best. I have been doing more tying than fishing with them but I think the big allure for me when it comes to Musky flies is the no two are tied exactly the same. I feel the most creative when on the vise tying Musky flies there is just something about them and by no means do I think I am as good as Gabe or Dan those guys tie. Good musky flies are tied on select hooks, with premium materials, and average around $30.00 each. It’s a good thing they’re fished with shock tippets of 80-pound fluorocarbon or steel wire! Google Musky flies you will get all kinds of patterns to choose from.
Bob recommends a 10-weight rod. New rod materials mean that a 10-weight rod isn’t much heavier than an old 7 or 8-weight… and you’ll be glad to have the extra muscle when casting large flies, or trying to stop a big fish from getting into a woodpile. We all have our favorite rod manufacturers, but there isn’t a need to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a good fly rod these days.
Any large, single action fly reel that’s matched to the line it holds will do the job. It’s unusual for musky to make long, sustained runs in a river, but a trustworthy drag is always a good thing. Large arbor reels have the added advantage of quick line retrieval. Besides having a dependable drag, I recommend that you fish with a reel that’s comfortable, and you know well.
Per Bob “most agree upon these line recommendations (by grain weight) for the following rod weights:”
- 9wt- 350
- 10wt- 400
- 11wt- 450
- 12wt- 500
The exception to this is if the angler will be spending a lot of time on shallower water. In this case an intermediate tip or full intermediate is best.
There are a number of manufacturers and lines to choose from:
- Rio Outbound
- RioVersi-Tip System
- Scientific Angler’s Streamer Express (26 foot tip)
- Scientific Angler’sWet Tip Express (Buy 400gr line for a 10wt. If you’re throwing a 9wt, you may want to cut off 3 feet to make it easier to cast. If you’re throwing an 8wt, go with the 300gr).
- Air Flo Bass Musky Fly Line
I learned that all musky guides have their own leader/shock-tippet systems that they know and work for them. If the leader or shock-tippet fails, God forbid, you’ll be thinking about that for the rest of your life. If you want to just buy one that you can trust, contact Pat Ehlers at “The Fly Fishers” and he can hook you up with his 7.5′ Pat Ehlers Hand-Tied Pike/Musky Leaders.
As if I was going to tell you where exactly we fished. Ha. I would get killed. I am only familiar with the Midwest so sorry for you guys down south; I know you have muskies too, but have no idea where to start looking. Since I live in the Midwest, I can tell you there are tons of waters that contain musky. We were on rivers for this trip, but don’t overlook all the lake fishing opportunities – my first Musky caught on a fly was in a lake. I suggest “Lake-Link” or your State DNR website; it will help you locate some waters near you without spending the gas to explore personally.
Certainly, fly-fishing for musky is not for everyone. Though I certainly don’t want to sound discouraging, that is just the reality of it. All the guides I met on this trip have different thoughts about it, but it’s safe to say that most would agree that three or four follows, and a couple of “eats”, is a good day of Musky fishing for any boat. In my limited experience, it’s not uncommon to have days in which a musky isn’t seen.
With that being said I think every fly fisher looking for a challenging new fly-fishing endeavor should give it a try. Put away your trout flies, grab your 10-weight and a beefy musky fly, and fish outside your current fly box – even if just once a year.